geert lovink on Fri, 11 May 2001 14:51:45 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Official IMC Seattle statement on the "FBI Raid'

from: (via

This is an official announcement from the Seattle IMC Spokescouncil 

On the evening of Saturday, April 21, a day which saw tens of thousands
demonstrate against the FTAA in the streets of Quebec City, the
Independent Media Center in Seattle was served with a sealed court order
by two FBI agents and an agent of the US Secret Service. The terms of the
sealed order prevented IMC volunteers from publicizing its contents;
volunteers immediately began discussions with legal counsel to amend the
order. This morning, April 27, Magistrate Judge Monica Benton issued an
amended order, freeing us to discuss the situation without the threat of
being held in contempt.

The original order, also issued by Judge Benton, directed the IMC to
supply the FBI with "all user connection logs" for April 20 and 21st from
a web server occupying an IP address which the Secret Service believed
belonged to the IMC. The order stated that this was part of an "ongoing
criminal investigation" into acts that could constitute violations of
Canadian law, specifically theft and mischief. IMC legal counsel David
Sobel, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, comments: "As the
U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, the First Amendment protects the right
to communicate anonymously with the press and for political purposes. An
order compelling the disclosure of information identifying an
indiscriminately large number of users of a website devoted to political
discourse raises very serious constitutional issues. To provide the same
protection to the press and anonymous sources in the Internet world as
with more traditional media, the Government must be severely limited in
its ability to demand their Internet identity--their "Internet Protocol
addresses." A federal statute already requires that such efforts against
the press be approved by the Attorney General, and only where essential
and after alternatives have been exhausted. There is no suggestion that
these standards were met here.

The sealed court order also directed the IMC not to disclose "the
existence of this Application or Order, or the existence of this
investigation, unless or until ordered by this court." Such a prior
restraint on a media organization goes to the heart of the First
Amendment. Ironically, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer learned about the
existence of the order from "federal sources," suggesting that the purpose
of the gag order was simply to allow the government to spin the issue its

The order did not specify what acts were being investigated, and the
Secret Service agent acknowledged that the IMC itself was not suspected of
criminal activity. No violation of US law was alleged. It is not clear
whether federal law allows the Attorney General ever to approve such an
investigation of US press entities to facilitate a foreign investigation.
According to IMC counsel Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
"This kind of fishing expedition is another in a long line of overbroad
and onerous attempts to chill political speech and activism. Back in 1956,
Alabama tried to force the NAACP to give up its membership lists -- but
the Supreme Court stopped them. This order to IMC, even without the 'gag,'
is a threat to free speech, free association, and privacy."

Responding to questions from IMC volunteers, the agents claimed that their
investigation concerned the source of either one or two postings which,
they said, had been posted to an IMC newswire early Saturday morning.
These posts, according to the agents, contained documents stolen from a
Canadian government agency, including classified information related to
the travel itinerary of George W. Bush (who was at that time in Quebec
City, participating in Summit of the Americas meetings). Agents claimed
that the Secret Service was notified of the existence of such posts by a
tip from an (unnamed) major commercial news network.

The agents were unable to provide URL addresses or titles for the postings
they described. Additionally, the court order contained a non-working IP
address, rather than an address assigned to any of the IMC sites. IMC
volunteers nevertheless were able to identify two articles posted to the
Montreal IMC which partially matched the agents' incomplete description.
These articles, posted first in French and then in English translations (
HYPERLINK "" , 514 and 515),
contain sections of documents purportedly stolen from a Quebec City police
car during Friday night anti-FTAA demonstrations; the documents detail
police strategies for hindering protesters' mass action. It does not
appear that any materials were posted to any IMC site containing Bush
travel plans.

Although the agents were concerned with only two posts, the court order
demands "all user connections logs" for a 48-hour period, which would
include individual IP addresses for every person who posted materials to
or visited the IMC site during the FTAA protests. IMC legal counsel Nancy
Chang, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, comments that "the
overbroad sweep of the information demanded by the FBI raises the
disturbing question of whether the order is calculated to discourage
association with the IMC."

The agents arrived at the IMC around 7pm. Seattle IMC volunteers had been
busy all afternoon gathering regional IMC coverage of FTAA protests
underway in Seattle and in Blaine, Washington, and coordinating coverage
with other sites on the IMC network. Several visitors were also in the IMC
at the time, using public computers.. While agents were speaking with one
staff volunteer, another began making telephone calls in an effort to
contact legal counsel. After the agents left, volunteers discussed the
court order's gag provision, and began recontacting the handful of people
who had already been called, in order to make sure that the terms of the
court order would not be violated before legal counsel had time to
appraise the situation.

Initial attempts were made to contain news of the FBI/Secret Service
visit; however, a few details of the story were soon leaked via a
partially accurate report broadcast on the Vermont IMC internet radio
stream. Soon the Seattle IMC was flooded with phone calls requesting
information about what quickly began to be described as an "FBI raid," and
speculations began to spread rapidly across the open-publishing newswires
of various IMCs.

For about three hours, a network of IMC technology volunteers attempted to
comply with the court order by removing such posts from the Seattle IMC
and other major IMC sites as they appeared. This had the unfortunate
effect of seemingly confirming the worst suspicions of independent
journalists who posted brief articles announcing or speculating about
mysterious and terrible things going on at the Seattle IMC, then finding
their posts removed from view minutes later. Volunteers called off this
clumsy attempt at rumor control around midnight, when it became clear that
removing of posts was only serving to fan the flames of rumor, and that in
any case the story had already spread beyond the confines of the IMC
network. In acting to remove these posts, IMC volunteers were motivated by
fear of violating the court order's gag provision even before legal
counsel had had a chance to review the document. We regret the feelings of
confusion and disempowerment which many users of the IMC sites experienced
due to Saturday night's blackout of postings on this topic, and the
general frustration caused by the gag order.

Since the incident occurred, several persistent, yet false, rumors have
taken shape; some of these found their way into coverage published in
Monday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other commercial media. We can now
dispel some of the more common of these: No search warrant was served to
the IMC in connection with the court order, and nobody connected to the
Seattle IMC has been arrested. No equipment or logs have been seized; the
agents' visit was not a "raid."

Now, free from restrictive court orders, the Seattle IMC will be able to
cover this important story as it continues to unfold.

The Seattle Independent Media Center was launched in Fall 1999 to provide
immediate, authentic, grassroots coverage of protests against the WTO.
Just a year and a half later, the IMC network has reached around the
world, with dozens of sites scattered across six continents. IMCs are
autonomously organized and administered, but share collective
organizational principles and certain technological resources. Each IMC's
news coverage centers upon its open-publishing newswire, an innovative and
democratizing system allowing anyone with access to an Internet connection
to become a journalist, reporting on events from his or her own
perspective rather than being forced to rely on the narrow range of views
presented by corporate-owned mainstream media sources.

During last weekend's widespread protests against a proposed Free Trade
Area of the Americas, many IMC sites collaborated to produce comprehensive
coverage of demonstrations taking place in Quebec City and Sao Paulo, as
well as solidarity protests in cities across the U.S. and along the
Mexican and Canadian borders. The breadth and depth of coverage produced
by the IMC's global network eclipsed that of many corporate media outlets.

The Seattle IMC remains committed to its mission: "The Independent Media
Center is a grassroots organization committed to using media production
and distribution as a tool for promoting social and economic justice. It
is our goal to further the self-determination of people under-represented
in media production and content, and to illuminate and analyze local and
global issues that impact ecosystems, communities and individuals. We seek
to generate alternatives to the biases inherent in the corporate media
controlled by profit, and to identify and create positive models for a
sustainable and equitable society."

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